Magstripes to microns: Just what do they mean anyway?


Know your onions when it comes to plastic cards

Plastic card terminology
Plastic card terminology explained

There’s a fair bit of jargon when it comes to printed plastic cards. Here’s how to know your LoCo from your HiCo (and whether you need them at all).

You’ll notice that plastic cards are measured in microns rather than mm’s. This refers to the thickness of the card. A standard bank cards is 760 microns. Some discount cards or appointment cards can be thinner, often 680 or 420 microns.

Always check the microns so you know what you’re getting. The higher the microns, the thicker and better quality the card will be.

Magnetic stripe (often referred to as mag stripe)
Whether or not you need plastic cards with magnetic stripes depends on what you want them to do, and whether you have the system that works with them.

For example, if you have the technology that allows members to ‘swipe’ through a turnstile, access lockers or buy their lunch, you’ll need a magnetic stripe on the back of the card.

Mag stripes come encoded or unencoded. If you want them to be supplied already encoded (i.e. programmed to work with your system), you’ll need to provide the relevant information to the card supplier. Or they can be sent unencoded, for you to ‘match up’ at your end. Consult the user manual that came with your system for more information.

HiCo or LoCo?
Next you’ll need to decide if you need a HiCo or LoCo mag stripe. HiCo are typically black, whereas LoCo are usually brown.

HiCo magstripes are more secure and stable. They are commonly used in situations where cards are frequently swiped and the need for security is higher  (for example in accessing a building).

LoCo magstripes are fine in situations where security is less important and the need for the card to hold information is temporary; for example gift cards or hotel key cards.

Mifare cards/smart cards
Smart cards or Mifare cards are capable of many functions, thanks the chip contained within them. They are commonly used for access control, transport, ticketing, smart wallets etc. The Oyster Card is a well-known example of a smart card – capable of being ‘loaded’ with money and scanned by readers.

Smart cards can be printed on and branded in the same way that regular cards can. They’re more expensive than a regular plastic card, because they’re capable of so much more.

Other features to personalise cards
You can also choose to include a range of features on your printed plastic cards, for example signature panels, bar codes or QR codes. These usually cost extra, so consider whether you actually need them before ordering.

One other thing – check what the card is made of

Don’t just assume that the plastic cards are 100% plastic. Some printed plastic cards have a cardboard inner core, particularly if sourced from the Far East, which results in a much lower quality card.  It impacts on colour definition and vibrancy – you’ll often see a border around the card where the cardboard ends, and they aren’t as durable.

If you need any help on ordering printed plastic cards, our friendly team are happy to answer any questions.

TLC for your plastic card printer

Show your printer some love regularly and it will reward you with years of service

We all need a little bit of care and affection every now and again. And your plastic card printer is no different.

If you’ve bought a printer to print your own cards in-house when you need to, you’ll want to get the most out of your investment, as even an entry-level plastic card printer isn’t cheap.

Obviously the more of a work-horse the plastic card printer is, the more you’ll need to maintain it.

It’s easy for dust and dirt to become trapped in your plastic card printer and on your rollers as cards have a high static charge. This can result in poor quality print: images can be blurred and colours and text won’t be as sharp. Lack of cleaning over time can cause repair issues and eventually cause the printer to stop working altogether.

TLC for printers
Some TLC will do wonders for your plastic card printer

If you’re regularly knocking out large runs of double-sided colour cards, you’ll need to give your printer some TLC more often. And no, a hug won’t do.

Tips for ensuring a happy plastic card printer (and getting the best quality print)

 As well as ensuring the best quality output, cleaning your plastic card printer regularly will also extend the life of the print heads and magnetic encoders. Which means the machine will last longer.

Here are a few simple and inexpensive ways to make sure your printer gives you years of service. Manufacturers recommend you clean the plastic card printer every time you change your ribbon and every time the cleaning light is on.

1. Use cleaning swabs for visible debris

If debris or dust is visible on the printhead, a cleaning swab is the safest way to remove it without damage. Never use a sharp object to do this as it could permanently damage the printhead.

2. Use a cleaning card for a fuller deep-clean 

Using pre-saturated cleaning cards will ensure the printheads, transport rollers and magnetic encoder station are kept clear of debris. It’s like a deep clean for your card printer.

3. Improve printing performance with a cleaning roller

Using a cleaning roller regularly will improve printer performance by picking up debris from blank cards, producing sharper graphics and text.

You can buy branded products from the printer manufacturer, or generic products designed to fit multiple printers, which are cheaper.

You can generally buy all three in a pack for cost savings.

Regular cleaning will prolong the life of your plastic card printer, reduce maintenance fees and reduce the amount of downtime you experience.

Search our range of cleaning kits.


Printed plastic cards: check your proof!

If you’re about to order hundreds or even thousands of printed plastic cards, like membership cards or promotional cards, it always pays to see an actual example of the card first, before you hit ‘print’.

Except that you shouldn’t … pay any extra to see one, that is.

Peace of mind that you’re getting what you think you are

The last thing you want is to order 3,000 colour club cards only to find that they’re not as thick as you thought they’d be, or the print isn’t as bright as you wanted. The only way to check the end product is to actually see an example of one of the final printed plastic cards. And we mean your final card, with your design elements and information.

Many plastic card suppliers will send you an example of ‘one they made earlier’ for someone else, in order to avoid the expense of creating a press proof*. Whilst that’s great in terms of showing the thickness, it won’t show you how this card will look with your information on it. Insist on them printing one of your cards for you to approve, and they’ll often hit you with a one-off press charge – often up to £50.

It’s also fairly standard practice to send you a pdf proof to approve on email – just a pdf sheet showing the artwork on paper. This is far from fool proof – how can you sign it off when you have no idea how the final card will look?

We’ll provide a sample of your final card – for no extra cost

We want you to be 100% happy with the printed plastic cards you order. The only way we can do that is to provide you with a sample of exactly how your card will look before we print them.

So if you order membership cards, promotional cards, discount cards, loyalty cards, key tags, hotel key cards, custom printed cloakroom tags, plastic business cards or any other bespoke printed plastic cards – we’ll send you a press proof to approve. Which allows you to sign off the order in confidence, because you know exactly how the final product will look.

To us, it’s just sensible. Which is why we don’t charge any extra for the service.

Some cynics out there say we hide it in the cost of the printed plastic cards. But we don’t – our prices remain some of the lowest on the web.

Search our printed plastic cards.


*Just what is a press proof anyway?

A press proof is a card that’s generated right off the printer press. Or in other words, a sample card that’s printed with all of your information on it, so you can see what the finished article will look like.

Need more club cards during the year? Don’t pay twice

Most clubs and sports establishments have a membership programme these days, which can range from tens of members to thousands.

Cycling club card
Print new club cards through the year without incurring a new set-up fee

With every new club year comes the need to print new club cards for members. A relatively easy and cost-effective task when you’re working from a database of names: simply send off the details to your printed plastic cards supplier and they print the numbered club cards. Job done.

But what happens when new members join throughout the year?

The last thing you want to do is pay a new set up and print fee for a handful of plastic cards every time someone new joins up. You could buy your own plastic card printer and print them yourself, but that requires a considerable upfront investment – and you won’t get a consistent result.

Print more than you need & we’ll keep them until you need them

Order more club cards than you need right now and we’ll keep the remainder for you to ‘draw down’ on when you need to.

So if you have 410 members at the moment, you might want to order 500 club cards (all of which will be printed at the same time and sequentially numbered). We’ll send you the 410 cards now, personalised with your members’ details, then we’ll hang onto the other 90 branded cards.

When new members join, simply send us the data and we’ll overprint their details onto the club cards we’re holding for you. We only make a small charge for this service to cover the overprinting and delivery.

Which means you could order new club cards for members on a monthly basis for example.

Don’t pay twice for additional club cards. For more information please contact one of our team on 0855 257 8857 or



Printed plastic cards: jargon explained

The world of printed plastic cards is full of terminology. How many microns? Magentic stripe (uncoded or encoded)? Hi-Co or Lo-Co?

We do our best not to talk in jargon, preferring instead to ask our customers what they want their cards to do. But sometimes it’s unavoidable. Here’s a guide to the terminology you’ll come across when you’re ordering printed plastic cards:

Microns – not a being from another planet

The thickness of printed plastic cards is measured in microns rather than mm’s. A standard credit card measures 760 microns. The higher the microns, the thicker and better quality the card is.

The majority of cards you have in your wallet will be 760 microns, although some cards like discount cards or business cards can be thinner, often 680 or 420 microns.

Always check the microns of the printed plastic cards you’re ordering. That cheap price you found might be cheap because the cards aren’t very good quality.

Do you need a magnetic stripe?

Most people are familiar with ‘swiping’ their card for entry into the gym for example, to buy their lunch at work, take out library books or to gather loyalty points. This works because the ‘reader’ (gym turnstile for example) ‘reads’ the information held on the magnetic stripe on the back of your card and recognises you.

Whether or not you need a magnetic stripe on your printed plastic cards depends on the ‘reader’ and technology you’re using. They are often found on Membership cards, loyalty cards and ID cards.

If you order uncoded magstripe plastic cards, they will be sent for you to ‘match up’ with your system at your end. Or they can be supplied ready encoded, if you provide the relevant information to the card supplier.

HiCo or LoCo?

The next question you’ll be asked is whether you need HiCo (High-coercivity) or LoCo (Low-coercivity) magnetic stripe.

HiCo are typically black, whereas LoCo are typically brown. The difference lies in the level of security. As the name suggests, HiCo magstripes are more secure and stable. They are commonly used in situations where cards are frequently swiped and the need for security is higher (for example in accessing a building).

LoCo magstripes are fine in situations where security is less important, and the need for the card to hold information is temporary, for example on gift cards or hotel key cards.

As you’d expect, LoCo magstripes on printed plastic cards tend to be cheaper than HiCo ones. Which is best suited to you will depend on what you need the card to do and how long you need it to last. If durability and security is key, go with HiCo. If the cards are single use or are needed only temporarily, LoCo will be fine.

Other card options

You can also customise most printed plastic cards by including a signature panel, bar code or QR code, depending on what you want the card to do.

One other thing – check the inner core

Don’t just assume that the plastic cards are 100% plastic. Some printed plastic cards have a cardboard inner core, which results in a much lower quality card.  It impacts on colour definition and vibrancy – you’ll often see a border around the card where the cardboard ends, and they aren’t as durable.

If you need any help on ordering printed plastic cards, our friendly team are happy to answer any questions. Simply tell us what you want the cards to do and we’ll advise you.

Will player ID cards end ‘playing down’?

If you have children playing in competitive youth sports teams, whether rugby, football or other ‘contact’ sports, you’ll want to know that everyone is playing by the same rules. Whether they’re playing in under 11, under 14 or under 17 teams, you’ll assume that your kids are playing others of the same age.

This isn’t always the case. Clubs still encounter overage players being allowed to ‘play down’ or teams being banded into age brands not allowed by the regulations, which simply isn’t fair play.

And for parents, it raises safety concerns of their child playing against team members much bigger or older than them.

Youth sports card
Safeguard your youth players with player ID cards

Player ID cards can make a big difference

The need to register players and play them in the correct age grade is essential to safeguarding and protecting young people, and introducing photo player ID cards go a long way to helping coaches achieve their duty of care. All players must have been registered with their club in order to be given player ID cards in the first place.

More and more clubs and leagues throughout the UK are now adopting a ‘no card, no play’ policy. This makes it very difficult for people to suddenly substitute an unregistered star player at the last minute, or for clubs to allow older children to compete in younger teams. Photo ID does away with the concern of ‘did the coach bring documentation for one individual, but play another’?

They also help keep your insurance valid

If you run youth teams, you should also be aware that players, officials and coaches are only covered by insurance when they comply with age regulations. Serious breaches can lead to insurance being withdrawn club-wide.

The most cost-effective way to print your own player ID cards is to invest in a card printer. Although this requires up-front investment, it will prove its worth over the seasons to come. Search our range of plastic card printers here.



Now in stock! Fluorescent plastic cards

We’ve just added a new range of fluorescent plastic cards onto our shelves (and we certainly can’t miss them…) made by Fotodek, known for the quality and durability of their plastic cards.

Fluorescent plastic cards
Brighten up your next promotion with fluorescent cards

Time to brighten up your next promotion?
If you print your own plastic cards and really want your next promotion to stand out, these fluorescent plastic cards will do it for you.

They’re perfect for Freshers week for example – if you want to attract new students at the start of term, producing fluorescent promotional cards will definitely grab their attention. They won’t exactly be missed in their wallet when Fresher’s Fair is over, either!

Draw attention to health and safety information

Some of our clients are using the fluorescent plastic cards to print important company or health and safety information to give to their workers, particularly those who work between different plants or use manual machinery.

Immediately spot children when you’re out on a trip

If you’re organising a weekend summer camp or a holiday club day out for a group of children, using the fluorescent cards as ID cards means they’ll be easier to spot and gather together.

All the fluorescent plastic cards are standard credit card thickness. And because they’re made by Fotodek, you can be sure you’re getting a high quality product.

They’re available in fluorescent green, yellow, pink and orange – with a gloss shine, starting from £24 for a pack of 100. Search our range of blank cards here

Old/used plastic cards? Turn them into jewellery

We were having a discussion in the office the other day about ways to re-use or recycle old plastic cards. What do you do with your gift card for example, when you’ve redeemed it? Or your old loyalty card when you get a new one?

Some plastic cards are made from environmentally friendly plastic, so they will break down after a few years. The plastic we use in our cards is recyclable, but you’ll need to check locally to see if your area supports it.

Resin jewellery from plastic cards
Who’d have thought a plastic card would make a great bracelet?

Here are some other ways you could make use of them:

–  Use them as ice-scrapers. Brilliant for the job, and you’ve always got one on you

– Give them to young kids to put in their purses and play pretend ‘shop’ with

– Put them in the toolbox for the next DIY job, they’re perfect for smoothing on Polyfilla or scraping jobs

– Put them in the bakery drawer. They’re great for scraping up biscuit dough or pastry

– Get crafty – punch them, glue them and create a mobile: the weirder the better.

What we really want to do with them though is turn them into jewellery like Kim Baldwin of Life Accessories in the US. She creates funky bracelets and necklaces by recycling gift and loyalty cards, and creates some really unique pieces. They’re really affordable too.

If anyone is doing the same thing over here in the UK let us know, we have a few spare cards we could send you!

If you’re interested in printing your next run of plastic cards on biodegradable plastic, please get in touch. We also stock blank ultra white biodegradable cards for your own card printing – 100 for £12.64.



Are you prepared for hotel conference season?

Hotel conference registration
Speed up registration and increase security at the same time

If you’ve got a large conference or exclusive event coming up, you’ll be immersed in planning. Branding, access and security are likely to be just some of your priorities. It might help to ask yourself the following:

–    Have you made the most of the branding opportunities?

–    How are you going to badge attendees and ensure a smooth ‘check-in’ process?

–    How will grant the people access to the right areas of the conference – and keep others out?

Branding and security work hand-in-hand

Consistency of branding makes a great impression. If you have a theme and a brand for the conference, you’ll probably have applied it across everything from the welcome programme to the exhibition stands and menus.

Have you considered your name badges?

One of the first touch points with your brand is at arrival. If you’ve gone to a huge effort to brand your conference, don’t miss your name badges out. Include your logo and other conference details onto a personalised plastic card which could them be attached to a custom designed lanyard.

Rather than a simple name badge, provide a photo ID card instead – this aids security and identification and helps with introductions and recognition between attendees.

You can either have ID cards printed ahead of the conference by asking attendees to send over photographs, or print them on the day with a plastic card printer.

Increase security through customised access control cards

Giving access control cards to your attendees is a great way of granting access to the conference (and making sure other hotel guests don’t wander in for example), whilst still allowing freedom of movement.

You can also program access control cards to grant access rights for specific areas; so everyone can access the main conference room, but only certain people can access the VIP area.

Access control cards can also:

–    Have promotional or reminder messages printed on them, with event details or function information on for example

–    Act as cashless vending cards or store spending information.

Also ensure that you have enough access control cards and hotel key cards in stock to meet the rush of guests and attendees: the best laid plans will go to the wall if the cupboards are bare.


Is your wallet getting bigger?

How many printed plastic cards do you carry around with you? 

printed plastic cards
How many printed plastic cards are in your wallet?

There was a time (not that long ago either) when you had one bank card and one credit card in your wallet, and that was about it. Now, your purse is likely to be full of  branded printed plastic cards. Have a look – we bet you’ve got more than you think.

Having done a quick strawpoll here, we think the average is between 12-14 cards.

As well as your debit and credit cards, you’ll probably have your driving licence, a few loyalty cards, a swipe card for work, club cards for your sports or leisure club, membership cards for any other clubs you’re part of, a couple of discount or promotional cards, a business card, a travel card and maybe even a library card. One of us even had a plastic card book token.

Oh, and don’t forget to count any keytags you’ve got on your key chain.

Which means that your clever wallet can now take out money, get a discount, gain entry to a building, check out books, get you on public transport, rack up points and even get you a free coffee.

So come on, own up – how many printed plastic cards do you have?

And if you could have one more, what would it be?